Tuesday, 29 September 2015

The Zoo by Jamie Mollart

review by Maryom

James Marlowe was an ad man at the top of his game, able to target the demographic, spin a warm, caring, desirable image for his customers, twist a few facts if necessary and SELL just about anything. Focusing on winning the next high-revenue contract, celebrating long and hard when he did, fuelling his lifestyle with drink and drugs, ignoring the  - all started to poison his personal relationships and alienate his wife and friends. Now his glorious career is in the past, and he's a shattered man, detained in a psychiatric unit, believing himself at the mercy of a group of plastic figures collectively referred to as The Zoo, trying to piece together how things went so very, very wrong.

 Through one man's crisis, Mollart explores the shallow, cynical world of advertising, giving his protagonist just enough conscience to feel uneasy about his role in promoting an unethical business, but not enough to actually do something about them. He isn't going to turn whistle-blower and spill insider information to the press; instead he bottles his doubts for too long, subduing them with drink and drugs - until they burst out in as messy a way as possible. From the first page, in fact the first sentence, the reader is plunged into the troubled mind of a man struggling to cope, feeling himself tyrannised and controlled by a set of models - in fact it reads rather like the beginning of a horror story. As the story alternates between 'now' in the psychiatric ward, and 'before' as events in James' life start to unwind, it becomes apparent that this is no fantasy horror but one that's very much part of the real world.
At times it's a very troubling story; not only from James' personal perspective (after all he does seem determined on self-destruction) but also by raising questions about the consumerism that makes the modern world go round and the advertising industry that helps it. Throughout the figurines remain enigmatic - sometimes they seem to represent different aspects of James, at others various attributes belonging to family or colleagues - but however you see them, they remain scary, particularly in the influence James grants them.
Especially for a debut novel, this is an absolute stunner! Something - possibly the hallucinations experienced by James, possibly something in the writing style itself  - reminded me of Iain Banks' work, making Jamie Mollart an author I'll definitely be looking out for. I've read some great debuts this year, and this is up there with the best of them.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Sandstone Press
Genre - Contemporary Adult Fiction

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